Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

By , on March 12, 2011

Legal Views, Opinion

I was in a municipal court recently to fight a personal parking ticket. Approximately fifty citizens had requested mitigation hearings or decided to contest their parking tickets that had been issued to them by the City of Olympia. The judge was the Honorable Skip Houser, judge pro tem.

The notice from the city advised me to be at court at noon. I thought I would be one of a few willing to contest a parking ticket, but that was wrong. Then I hoped to get called soon, which also proved wrong. The judge said he called people in alphabetical order during the last hearing, so today he would start with “z,” or “zed” for my Canadian friends. I then groaned as he flipped the three inch packet of documents over.

But I was actually pleased to witness the conduct of the hearings. Judge Houser found humor in every case. He took the explanations of each defendant at face value, explained the law, and exercised the utmost in compassion. I do not recall one of us leaving the court without a dismissal or substantial reduction in our fine.

Judge Houser made an adversarial process into an educational and humorous one. He executed a task that could have been drudgery for him and painful for us, and made it joyous. More judges should learn from him.

However, the proceedings were a little strange, even for something as informal as handling parking tickets. The city had no one representing it. The judge accepted the city’s declarations and record as fact, and there was no opportunity to confront the witnesses against you; they were not there. Also, only those contesting their tickets were sworn in. I wondered if it was okay for those requesting mitigation to lie at will.

I suspect all of this conformed to the statutory law of Washington, which years ago de-criminalized many traffic matters and began to allow very informal hearings for things like hearings on parking tickets. But this relaxed process does not feel anything like what we bargained for as American citizens.

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